Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Of the Besieging and Taking of Jerusalem

The host without delay set themselves to the work of besieging the city, or maybe I should rather say assailing the same, for there was much lacking to a siege. It were long to tell all the matters wherein this lack consisted. Nor, indeed, could they be comprehended of any save those who know how the city lies, of what kind are the walls, and what cliffs and precipices and the like there are which serve for a defence beyond all walls. Let it suffice, therefore, to say that one-half of the city was not besieged. On the fifth day after the host was set in array there was made an assault, and that with so much hardihood that the town was well-nigh taken; and it was afterwards said, and this by some who were of high place among the Turks, that if the assault had endured but the space of two hours more the enemy would have given place, so astonished and dismayed were they at the fierceness and valour of the Christians. But the captains, seeing that the city was not taken at the first charge, and that many were slain, sounded a retreat. After this they held a council, at which it was determined to make engines for the beating down of the walls; and when they had found such trees as were fit for this purpose, and this was no easy thing, they applied themselves to the work with much diligence. There was not a man, though ever so rich and noble, but set his hand to the labour. Also, the wealthy men paid wages to the country people round about that the matter might be more speedily brought to an end. The Turks, on the other hand, applied themselves diligently to the making of engines and such other things as might serve for the defending of the walls; and they had this advantage, that there was a better store of timber, and that tried and seasoned, within the town than without. But the besiegers were greatly helped by certain men that came from the town of Genoa, for these were right skilful carpenters, and had had much experience in the making of engines.

When a month and certain days had passed, and all things were ready for the assault, the bishops admonished the captains of the host that they should put aside all anger and jealousy and quarrels that each had against the other, and should pardon all offence received and acknowledge all offence given, for so, thus said they, it will be better for you, whether it be God's will that you live or that you die. And this they did, and all that were in the host confessed their sins and vowed amendment of life.

This done, and when the captains had changed their plans, leaving one part of the city for another, to the great perplexity of the Turks, at dawn of day the assault was made. And in this all helped, even the old men and the women and the children, for they carried stones and missiles and other weapons of war which the strong men might use. But at the first it seemed as if little could be done, for there was a deep ditch between the walls and the besiegers, and though these last threw darts and stones and such like things without ceasing, they harmed the Turks but little, and suffered themselves not less but rather more. So all that day the besiegers and the besieged fought, with but little advantage to one side or the other, save that they who defend themselves, having shelter, suffer less than they who attack. And when the night fell then there was of necessity a pause in the fighting, and the besiegers went back to their tents for food and rest. But they left many men well armed, who had charge to keep the engines. The Turks also left guards at all places in the wall where there was a likelihood of attack. They were not a little troubled in mind, because they feared enemies from within the city as well as enemies from without. There were many Christian men dwelling in the city, and these bore no goodwill to the Turks. I take it that there was little sleep that night in the camp of the Christians. I myself wandered to and fro, and heard the men as they talked in their tents or by the fires. There was no boastful speech such as one is wont to hear at such times. Men talked of what they had left undone rather than of what they had done. They seemed to me like to men who would perish rather than fail in the thing on which they had set their hearts. I knew not indeed how the city would be taken, but that it would be taken I did not doubt.

So the next day, so soon as it was light, there was a renewing of the assault. And now there befell two things, both very strange, the one of which I saw with my own eyes, the other was affirmed to me by credible witnesses. First, the Turks set upon one of the towers that are upon the wall three women clothed in white garments. These stood in the sight of all, and lifting up their voices chanted certain words, which I, having some knowledge of the tongue in which they spake, knew to be a curse on the Christian works and ways, and especially on the engines of siege. At the first the Christians stood not a little astonished at the sight, but after a while one that had the charge of a great catapult took aim at the women, and, though the place whereon they stood seemed to be beyond the cast of a stone, he struck the very top of the tower, and it fell with a great ruin to the ground. The second wonder I will now relate. And this, as I have said, I saw not with my own eyes, but I heard it from many that affirmed themselves to have so seen it. In the very heat of the battle, when the besiegers had spent their first strength and were now growing somewhat weary, and were losing heart, there appeared on the top of the hill which is called the Mount of Olives the figure of a knight, clad in shining armour, very bright to look upon. And he held in his hand a shield, as it seemed, of gold, which he shook. And when the besiegers saw it they were greatly encouraged; and after this—so they that told me of this thing affirmed—there was no falling back. I would not deny that these spake truly because I myself saw it not. It was a sign, I hold, for the fighters, and for the fighters only. As for me, I did according to my usual custom, following the army, and giving such help as it was in me to give to the wounded.

As for the manner in which the city was taken I cannot speak exactly, but this I may say, that I never have seen men bear themselves more bravely. Aye, and I must needs make mention of the women also, who, though they were not able to bear arms, yet went through the host carrying pots of water, wherewith they refreshed those who were ready to faint for thirst. And some of the women also and of the followers of the camp, men that sold food and drink, and did service with the horses and other like manners, brought up faggots of wood and such like matter, so that the soldiers in a very brief time were able to fill up a part of the ditch and to come close upon the walls. And now there was done, by the counsel of Duke Godfrey, a thing which more than any other served towards the taking of the city. The Turks had set upon the walls great bags of cotton and of hay, to the end that the force of the stones cast by the engines might be spent upon them, and the walls therefore suffer the less damage. Then the duke cried aloud that he would give five gold pieces to any man who, climbing the walls, should set fire to this cotton and hay. And this was very shortly done; and then straightway rose up such flame and smoke that the Turks could no longer stand upon the wall, for the wind, it should be said, blowing towards the town, carried it into their faces and sorely discomfited them. So they left defending the walls, and descended into the town with the purpose of defending the streets.

Thus did the Christians enter the City of Jerusalem. And the first that entered was the Duke Godfrey; after him came Duke Robert of Normandy, and, after him again the Earl of Flanders and Tancred. When this was done, Duke Godfrey sent some who should open the gates of the city, so that all might come in without let or hindrance. And this was done on Friday, the fifteenth day of July. And they that are curious in such matters, noted that the hour at which the gates were opened —being the manifest sign that the city was indeed taken—was noon, at which time the Lord Christ was crucified; also that the whole time of the siege was forty days.

Of that which was done in the city after it was thus taken I must needs write, but I do it with no little shame. That the Christians had suffered much from the hands of the Turks, not only in the spoiling of their goods but in their persons and lives, is most certain. Many such things I have seen with my own eyes. But for such deeds as were wrought that day, who can make excuse? And first it should be said that of the fighting men there scarcely escaped a single one, and the cause was this. While the Duke Godfrey assaulted the city on the one side, the Earl of Toulouse assaulted it on the other; and he also won his way within. The Turks, therefore, that fled from the duke fell into the hands of the earl, and were slaughtered without mercy. But of this slaying of the men of war I say not much; 'tis ever done in the heat of battle; they that spare the vanquished do it for the sake of gain, hoping to have ransom. I do not doubt that the Turks had done the same in the like case. But the slaying of the women and children was a most terrible deed. Nor was it done in the heat of battle only; for after the victory was assured them the soldiers searched the houses, and any that they found therein they brought them forth and slew them in the streets. 'Twas an awful sight, and the channels ran with blood.